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A THORNY ISSUE: Coaches the unsung heroes

Andi Thornhill

A THORNY ISSUE: Coaches the unsung heroes

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The tactical brilliance of some of the coaches is very much in concert with the general observation that this is perhaps the best World Cup ever.  
Very often our focus is on what happens on the field and we relegate to tiny corners of our minds the strategic tapestry that is weaved off it to turn dreams into reality.
In the English game, I think Jose Mourinho is the epitome of a manager who makes decisions that are out of the box and they usually work in Chelsea’s favour.
Nobody is perfect, but we can look at the ratio between good and bad, and the effectiveness of those decisions.  
Then there was Sir Alex Fergusson who was perhaps the best man manager the game has seen.
I used to call him Manchester United’s best player because he usually pulled something out of the bag when the team was under pressure.
With his strong personality and presence he would get the best out of players when their backs were against the wall.   
The psychological impact these coaches have on players shouldn’t be underestimated.
If you doubt me, juxtapose Fergie’s standing in the eyes of United’s players against that of David Moyes?
A no-contest.
It is perhaps a significant co-incidence that Dutch coach Louis Van Gaal is taking over at Old Trafford after the World Cup.
Based on the acumen he has displayed in Brazil, Van Gaal has confirmed that he’s from the top drawer.
He has been a successful club manager but this tournament has given the world a true insight into his mastery.
In successive matches his vision probably saved Holland from a premature departure from the World Cup.
The replacement of Robin Van Persie with Huntelaar against Mexico proved to be the masterstroke that saved the orange from turning sour.
Then the creme-de-le creme was switching of goalkeepers with less than a minute to go and the game heading for penalty kicks. The rest is history.
I concede that some calls are premeditated but there are times when you have to readjust off the cuff to suit the game situation, and this is where the pedigree of a manager is really tested.
He makes decisions he lives and dies with. Van Gaal’s moment of inspiration proved to be the pivotal move in Holland’s survival.
He might need to be just as crafty in today’s semi-final against Argentina.
I was also very impressed with Joachim Low’s reorganisation of Germany’s defence and midfield against France in advancing to the last eight.
Once captain Philipp Lahm resorted to his substantive right fullback position instead of playing the holding midfield post just in front of the back four, this allowed for greater attacking flow but it also neutralised the likes of Yohan Cabaye, Paul Pogna and Blaise Matuidi and virtually cut off the supply line to the strikers.
The strategy caught France by surprise and their bench couldn’t devise a counter plan especially after the early German goal. Fast and fiery in transition in earlier matches, they were stopped in their tracks.
Perhaps the most credit should go to Filipe Scolari.
Having promised to deliver the World Cup to 200 million Brazilians,he has been exceptional in keeping his charges motivated.
I say that in the context that this isn’t the best Brazilian team ever but Scolari was able to inject a measure of self-belief that’s just as deep and wide as the Amazon.
His matter-of-fact man management style has blended perfectly with the emotion of the players.
I can’t remember ever seeing so many grown men cry at the playing of their national anthem nor at the end of a game.
Instilling that mindset of giving blood sweat and tears to succeed shouldn’t be taken for granted because it helps with the focus and intensity needed to meet the highest expectations.
Whatever the outcome, I think Scolari can take a bow because inspiration has been a huge factor in Brazil’s performance at the World Cup.
Top coaches get the best out of players.
• Andi Thornhill is an experienced, award-winning sports journalist.